Teams were uncommonly busy before the NFL’s trade deadline on Tuesday, in part because the league moved the deadline back by two weeks, giving teams more time to evaluate their situations and the players being shopped by opposing clubs.
The Bills did nothing. Despite speculation that they could move running back LeSean McCoy or wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, they stood pat. The Eagles were interested in McCoy after Jay Ajayi’s injury. The day before the deadline, there were reports that Philly exec Howie Roseman was pushing hard for McCoy, but that the Bills wouldn’t trade him unless the offer blew them away.
Evidently, the Eagles weren’t willing to do that. They wound up sending a third-round pick to the Lions for wideout Golden Tate instead. It’s unknown how much the Bills were demanding for their star rusher. One rumor suggested that they wanted a second-round pick and a third. The Tate deal leads me to believe they might have turned down a third, which was more than fair.
But it wasn’t enough to part with McCoy, who is 30 years old and in decline as a star runner. The word was, the Bills felt he was too valuable to deal. That leads to only one logical conclusion: They want McCoy to be their featured back next season. They think they can make a playoff run next season and believe Shady has enough left to help them achieve it.
I disagree. I felt the Bills should move McCoy while he still had relatively high value. But that assumed they were in a total rebuilding mode and were willing to suffer through another bad season in 2019. Keeping Shady suggests that's not the case.
Next season, GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott will be in their third year. They can talk all they want about "The Process" and being patient. But fans’ patience wears thin quickly in today’s NFL, and three years is a long time. Pressure on the new regime to win next season will be intensified, and they’re well aware of it.
For one thing, they appear to have a young defense that could be one of the league’s best in 2019. They’re sixth in net defense this year, despite giving up 75 points in the first six quarters of the season. They played at a high level in five of six games since then, including a strong performance Monday when they held the Pats without a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The Bills have wasted a lot of good defense in a year and a half under McDermott. It’ll likely be even better next season. So it’s hard to imagine a competitive guy like McDermott will be content to field a top defense that continues to be compromised by its offense. He and Beane need to win, they’ve apparently decided that McCoy is their best option at running back in a pivotal season.
The alternative is taking a running back high in the draft, which isn’t likely when you consider their multiple other needs. They’re desperate for help at wide receiver and offensive line. McDermott will surely want to add pieces to his defense. You can find good running backs later (Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara went in the third round in 2017). Still, McCoy is a proven commodity.
McCoy’s production has declined the last two years. He averaged 5.4 yards a carry in 2016, when the Bills led the NFL in rushing and yards per carry. It dipped to 4.0 a carry last year, when he had the largest one-season drop in average rush of any back in history. This year, he’s down to 3.4 a carry. I imagine teams used that against the Bills in trade talks.
The Bills must figure that McCoy will bounce back, given an improved offensive line, an adequate group of wide receivers and a competent quarterback. There's no rule that says a tailback has to be finished after 30. Look at Adrian Peterson, who is enjoying a renaissance in Washington. McCoy's diminished production could have more to do with his supporting cast than his physical state. We'll find out.
They have $90 million in cap space for next year, plus 10 draft picks, so McDermott and Beane must be confident they can fill in the holes and field an offense that will be at least average, and certainly capable enough for a playoff run.
As I said in Tuesday’s column, the heightened pressure to win will make the quarterback situation very interesting. The premise is that Josh Allen is the franchise guy and will be the No. 1 next season. But if the Bills are playing to win right away, with a 31-year-old McCoy and a rising defense, they aren’t likely to be very patient with Allen’s short-term development.
Halfway through the season, fans are suffering with a remedial offense, and the prospect of Nathan Peterman starting at quarterback with Matt Barkley as his backup. We might as well look to the future. What the Bills told us this week was that McCoy is very much a part of it, which means next season they’ll be in full win-now mode.